Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Discouragement or Advantage?

I wasn't going to blog today, but Paulette asked another thought-provoking question and I couldn't wait until Thursday to answer it. I'm just highly impatient that way.

Reading so many books then must be a fine-line you walk, between using them as an advantage to write something new and unusual, based on your knowledge, and having them be a discouragement, knowing that everything you can think of has already been done. Do you feel either of these with yourself?

You know, I haven't felt a lot of discouragement knowing that all the basic book plots are taken because I can add my own unique flavor to whatever story I'm telling. This is especially true when writing historical fiction -- every event in history has had countless books already written about it. The trick for me as an author is to come up with an angle that's unusual. Sure, someone else may have come up with that same angle, but they won't bring a Tristi flavor to it because, let's face it, they're not Tristi. Every author has their own voice, their own perception, their own imagination. While five thousand authors could sit down to write a book all on the same subject, they will end up essentially different because all five thousand of those people are individuals.

Another way to get around everything that's already been done is to ask yourself, "What if?" Say you've got the basic Boy-meets-Girl premise. We need to up the stakes. What if she's dying? What if she's not only dying, but is being slowly poisoned? Okay, now what if it's the boy's own mother, who's jealous of their relationship and doesn't want him to ever marry and leave home? Let's bump it up a notch and say, what if the mother has not just targeted this girl, but other girls he's dated? In fact, what if she's a serial killer? Take the basic scenario and then start throwing every strange twist and turn you can in there. You'll know when you've gotten a little too weird and need to rein in.

Josi Kilpack says that to build conflict, you've got to get your characters really miserable. She compares it to putting them up a tree, and then throwing things at them. Then, once they're begging to get down, you set the tree on fire. Then you can end the story, but not until those characters have really been through a lot. It's what you put them through and how they respond to it that makes your book different from everyone else's.

So, no, it doesn't discourage me. I have not yet read a book that's exactly like one I'm outlining. With the 100-300 books a year that I read, that's a pretty amazing thing, but when you take into consideration how individual we all are, and that we were each given our own, unique spark, it's not so strange.

Thanks for these cool questions -- I love really digging into them. Got any more??


ali said...

That was excellent Tristi!

I love to play the "what if ..." game. I love it so much, I play it too often that I get overwhelmed by all the stories there are to tell!

I find reading lots is encouraging rather than discouraging in my writing because it helps to me see there are better and there are worse writers and stories out there so you just never know ... one day it might be mine someone's reading!

Like that country song "If You Dream" ... dream big, cuz you just never know when your dream will come true!

Keep on, keepin' on Tristi! We love your work!

Kimberly said...

Wonderful answer! And I love Josi's analogy, it gave me a giggle.

What advice would you give to an aspiring writer who doesn't know where to begin?

Stephanie said...

I find that most of my discouragement comes from letting myself think everything has been done. I know I have my own take on things, but it is good to be reminded once in awhile. Thanks Tristi.

~paulette said...

yah... i tend to ask rather deep questions, don't i. I rather enjoy the passtime of reflection... and so, those type of questions come out. Actually, our little conversation has put me into a bit of thought myself these last few days... but on the opposite end of things.

See... i've always thought i was a TERRIBLE reader, because MY list wouldn't be 10 (completely read) books long if i included my entire LIFE in the count! So, i started thinking about it... because i love reading... i just don't get through many books. and i realized that it was simply because some authors do certain things that throw-me out of it... and it takes me forever to get back around, no matter how much i seem to love the story.

Then, those thoughts inspired me to start a new Topic on my blog: "Reading 2 Writing"... where i talk about the exact things that throw me in the "published" books i'm reading right at the moment... and why i (as the reader) end up setting it aside for a time. (although, i'm sure you've read EVERYTHING i'm reading a million times over, a long while ago!) But I just realized that i am totally the perfect reader/writer to do the job! And my blog is fairly new, so i needed some cool and helpful topics to blog about anyway. So... i guess i'm gonna try to turn one of my weaknesses into a strength and help out any author who wants it along the way. Sticking to concepts only, of course... NO bashing aloud :) what do ya think?


~paulette said...

actually... i do have another thought/question... (NOT that i was trying to dig for one.) But with all those spins in your head, constantly asking the 'what if' game to find a story that hasn't been written before, do you ever feel (partially due to how much you read) that perhaps a story you WOULD have written, was never humored past its origonal thought because of its initial unoriginality? OR perhaps, simply that the story ends up being sooo guided, that where it would have ended up, now becomes forced, taking the book out of its own flow... It simply makes me wonder if having to sort through so much information from other books to find a NEW storyline, might actually hinder the origonal flow of a potential book, like putting it in a mazed box of restrictions... does that make sense? Have you ever tossed a potentially good idea (for a story) aside because of having read so many others, despite where it "could" have gone being unknown?

i only ask, because i constatly hear my author friends saying: "oh i had this great thing in my book, but.... whatsername used the same thing (or whatever), so now i have to throw it out... but it would have been sooo perfect!" (even if they had thought of it long before the book they had read was published.)


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